What makes Browns coach Hue Jackson so sure he won’t be fired after one season even if the team doesn’t win a single game? In explaining the situation on Tuesday, Jackson suggested that he received an assurance during the hiring process that he won’t be fired after only one year.
“I am not distracted by what my fate will be because I never would have taken this job if I thought it was going to be anything other than me being here and seeing this through,” Jackson told reporters. “That part has never been an issue for me. Being 0-12 is hard on anybody. That is hard, period. I don’t like to lose — I have said that before — and I don’t like being in this situation, but I know we are going to fix it. . . . We have to do it brick by brick and step by step. I know we are in the midst of doing that. Like I said, we have great discussions and I know we will act on the things we need to do to get this place where we all want it to be and we know it needs to be.”
Asked whether he can overlook the fact that current ownership relieved coaches of their duties after only one or two seasons, Jackson said, “I have trust in the people who hired me. Those questions have been asked. I wouldn’t be standing here. You have to ask those hard questions. I feel very comfortable that they are committed to what we are trying to do. They haven’t been anything but committed that way. Continuity is a huge piece of this. They told me that from the outset and I knew it. Now, did I know we were going to be where we are today? No, I didn’t and I don’t think anybody did, but this is where we are and this is our reality. There is no getting around that. This is not where any of us want to be so we just have to fix it.”
Jackson confirmed that he asked blunt questions during the interview process aimed at confirming that he wouldn’t have a short stay as the head coach.
“I know the history here,” Jackson said. “Trust me, I don’t need you guys to tell me. I know it extremely well. I get it. I do not like our organization being the brunt of jokes and what has gone on here, but if this is what we have to go through to get to where we want to be then so be it. I am not going to tell you it is not hard. It is the hardest thing I have ever dealt with in football in my career. I have never seen this. I have never imagined this. I never could have said it would be like this, but if this is what it is to get where we want to go then so be it. It is worth it.”
He’s not the first coach who suffered through an awful initial season in the hopes of laying the foundation for success. Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in 1989 with the Cowboys, three years before hoisting back-to-back Lombardis. Likewise, one-time Cleveland Brown Chuck Noll was 1-13 in his initial season as the Steelers head coach in 1969, winning his first game and losing the rest five years before winning four Super Bowls in six years.
Of course, just because a coach has a dreadful initial season doesn’t mean that good things are destined to come. The Browns, like the 1989 Cowboys and 1969 Steelers before them, need to lay the foundation by making good decisions when it comes to personnel acquisition.
In this regard, quantity doesn’t mean quality. As one league source opined in the aftermath of receiver Taylor Gabriel’s strong performance for the Falcons, it was amazing that the Browns couldn’t find a spot for Gabriel on the roster, especially since they initially retained all 14 of their draft picks.
Some wondered at the time whether the decision to keep all 14 draft picks was driven by a desire to show that the new Browns, a blend of old-school football and new-age Moneyball concepts, got it right with every young player they picked. If so, the cost was the loss of a talented receiver who could be a significant weapon for the Falcons as the playoff push continues.
If the Browns quickly find themselves annually in the playoff push, it will have been worth it. Before that can happen, Jackson needs to push hard for a win or sweat out the question of whether Jimmy and Dee Haslam will decide that Jackson can be brought back if his first season matches the 2008 Lions for the worst season in NFL history.
The fact that they haven’t said Jackson definitely will be back no matter the outcome of the season suggests that there is a set of circumstances where they possibly will decide to make a change. In that regard, Jackson’s expressions of confidence and determination are irrelevant; after all, he was confident and determined five years ago after his first, and only, full season in Oakland, too.